Restaurant Server Advised to Mayor and City Council: Don’t Ruin My Livelihood

I have worked in the restaurant industry since I was born.

This is just a slight exaggeration. My mother worked in the service industry for much of my childhood and gave us a good living as a result. I chose to follow in his footsteps. Today, my earnings not only allow me to survive, they allow me to flourish. Recently, I even moved downtown, thanks to the reliable income I earn as a waiter.

So it is with deep concern for my livelihood and that of my friends in the city’s restaurants that I oppose Mayor Brandon Johnson’s proposal to eliminate the minimum wage for tipped workers.

For readers who have never worked in a restaurant, here’s an overview: The minimum wage in the city of Chicago is $15.80 per hour. Servers and bartenders can earn a slightly lower base salary of $9.48, but are still legally required to earn at least the full minimum, including tips.

Typically, I take home two to three times the city’s required minimum wage on an hourly basis. I’m no exception: A recent Sun-Times article reported the results of a survey of Chicago restaurant workers. The survey found that workers earn an average hourly wage of $28.48 per hour.

Mayor Brandon Johnson and his allies on the City Council want to abandon the current tipping system in favor of a fixed minimum wage for all workers. Essentially, I would be treated the same as a cashier at Burger King or an employee at Kroger – rather than the savvy professional I currently am.

They claim this policy change will have no negative impact on my income, but I’ve done my research and I don’t believe that.

Take the example of Washington, DC, which recently implemented the same policy advocated by the mayor. The changes have been both rapid and severe: more than 150 restaurants have eliminated or changed the tipping system in favor of a “service charge,” which is not a tip but the restaurant’s property.

This change was necessary because it is one of the few ways owners can adapt to the new system without charging exorbitant prices for food. But this comes at a price: diners don’t like it, because they feel obliged to leave a certain amount; tipped workers don’t like it, because many customers don’t tip on top of the service charge.

In other words: servers find themselves with a lower net salary than they had before this new policy which was supposed to help them.

Of course, not all restaurants will be able to adapt to a service charge environment. That same Sun-Times article reported that 66 percent of Chicago restaurants would cut staff and about one in four would close at least one location, according to the survey. This is also happening in Washington: one owner said, “I won’t open any more restaurants in Washington.”

I am upset that this legislation is moving quickly without the input of knowledgeable workers like me. The board is under the false impression that I am being abused and mistreated in my restaurant. In fact, I am empowered, and it is my tips and the tipping system that empower me.

Before they went off to fix something that didn’t need fixing, I would invite them to my table for a nice meal and serious conversation.

Destiney Fox is a server at Gene & Georgetti in Chicago.

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